Home » Commentary » Opinion » God and religion are not dead just yet…
Enthusiasm for silencing religious voices and getting the faithful to keep their beliefs to themselves can blind us to the important connections between religion — particularly, but not only, Christianity — and the institutions of liberty and prosperity we have come to cherish in Australia.
God is changing, or at least the involvement with God of western liberal societies is changing. In parts of Europe and in countries like Australia the ‘secularisation thesis’ holds that religion is gradually being displaced altogether from society. God is on the way out, it says.
Certainly this process of displacement is being accompanied by what appears to be the outright decay of familiar forms of religion. But while traditional religions are losing ground in the west, other religions, such as Islam, are putting new pressures on governments and societies.
No wonder God is seen variously as too timid, too militant, or completely redundant. And no wonder it has never been more important to understand more clearly the contribution religion has made to modern liberal society.
Sovereignty of the individual, for example, owes much to Christianity with its egalitarian moral insight about individual liberty. The emergence of the free individual brought with it a new social and economic status, and the capacity to give informed consent at the ballot box or in a contract.
There is much to criticize in today’s materialistic culture, but the individual’s freedom to participate in the market has helped to transform communities from widespread poverty to remarkable levels of prosperity. Individual economic agency has been a powerful engine for growth.
You don’t have to be religious yourself to recognise that our liberal, democratic way of life has deep roots in religious principles and values. But failure to recognise the important relationship between religion and liberty is likely to lead to a broader indifference to liberty in general.
Of course, none of this is to assert that religion will never wither and disappear from view and practice. But predictions of its demise have so far been off the mark. “Religion and spirituality in Australia [are] about hope,” says sociologist Gary Bouma.
Such hope, and the generation of that hope through actions, beliefs and practices, is critical for maintaining the freedom, resilience and vitality of a liberal society whose freedoms we can so easily take for granted.
God and religion are not dead just yet…